Skyfall begins promisingly enough in Istanbul. The opening scenes include views of the St. Sophia Mosque, where Bond met with Tatiana Romanova in From Russia with Love, and a motorcycle chase through the covered market (and on top of the covered market) where MI-6's genial Man in Istanbul, Kerim Bey, had his headquarters in that 1963 classic.
Alas, the mission goes wrong, an enemy agent escapes with a hard drive containing the identity of every allied mole planted in the world’s terror networks, and a wounded and left-for-dead Bond sulks on a beach for three months. Then an attack on MI-6 and the destruction of M’s office in an explosion (she wasn’t in it) shakes 007 out of his lethargy. He returns to London—out-of-shape, dressed like a slob, and in need of a shave. Not my childhood James Bond.
M certifies him fit for duty anyway. We’re reintroduced to Q, played as a computer nerd by Ben Whishaw (I want him cast as Gimbel O’Hare, if they ever make a movie of Full Asylum!). Q-branch is still rebuilding after the explosion, and Bond must go after the hard drive armed only with his trademark Walther PPK and a homing beacon. “A gun and a radio,” he says, disappointed. “Not exactly Christmas, is it?”
“Were you expecting an exploding pen?” Q replies.
As the story unfolds, one moment stands out for me as a turning point. M and Bond are escaping from the villain, Mr. Silva, and Bond stops the car at an old garage in order to swap vehicles. He removes the padlock, opens the door and inside is a silver Aston Martin DB5 – the car from Goldfinger — complete with front-end machine guns and ejector seat. “We’re going back in time,” Bond explains (metaphorically). They speed off, accompanied by the original Monty Norman James Bond theme music. Bond is back. For real this time.
The cinematic craftsmanship in Skyfall is first rate. The visuals are striking, especially a fight in silhouette in front of an LCD screen with an enormous blue jellyfish. I kept saying to myself, “This is f-ing brilliant,” a compliment I usually reserve for the works of Quentin Tarantino. Director Sam Mendes is a master of the dramatic pause and I laughed at the one-liners. My favorite was when Bond jumped onto a speeding subway train and a commuter waiting in the station says, “He’s keen to get home.”
There are a few flaws: some minor plot holes – at one point Q does something stupid that no one in his position would ever do – and the story drags in a couple places, mainly during rants by the half-deranged Silva. The final confrontation between Bond and Silva is a little disappointing – conventional shootouts and explosions with nothing particularly clever.
After the fires are out and the bodies are buried, however, there is one last scene. I won't give away what it is, but if you are a long time Bond fan like myself, I guarantee you will leave the theater absolutely delighted.
Michael Isenberg is the author of the James Bond parody Full Asylum. Check it out on Amazon.com.